Thursday 6 February 2014

Dave from the bindery does his thing, or "how my book was made, part two".

Thank God for that. I've sent The Boss off to the Silverdale Tracheotomy Club for the rest of the day so now I can get on with part two of how my book was made.

I'll have to send Mona (who runs the club) a giant box of chocolates for letting me foist Andrew upon her at such short notice. I don't think she's had a tracheotomy herself, so I hope I won't be committing an horrendous faux-pas, though I can't guarantee Andrew won't make up for that when he gets there.

Anyway, back to my arrival at Clays. After a lovely cup of tea, I was given a high-vis jacket - which would have sent Mr Beales into a semi-orgasmic state, but did absolutely nothing for me – and then it was off to see around the factory, with Dave from the bindery in charge of explaining everything. (This is where I get a bit hazy about the order of things. Greg says my brain's turning to mush, but I say it's because there was a lot to take in, all at once.)

The factory's quite noisy in places, but nothing like as noisy as I'd expected it to be, and it's immaculately well-ordered. We had to walk along a fairly narrow track painted onto the floor which is there to keep people from endangering themselves and others, (and which I kept forgetting about and stepping off.)

There were giant rolls of paper everywhere, like these behind Dave from the bindery. (You'd think he'd get fed up with being called that, but he genuinely didn't seem to mind.)

Anyway, first we went through a series of smaller areas, and looked at things like how a check is kept on the colours being used, which is done by an extremely fancy machine I've completely forgotten the name of, but which is pictured below:

Then it was on to seeing how the layout is done for the printing plates (This isn't the one for my book, but for one that mentions Sherlock Holmes, so it should really please all you Benedict Cumberbatch fans. I don't know what you see in him.)

Anyway, after that, we went out into the main part of the factory where the big print runs are done – which was where I started getting totally over-excited, when Dave (from the bindery) showed me this: 

I once took a simple book-binding class (thinking I might be able to change career and tell The Boss to stuff his job) but I hadn't realised that all books aren't made like hand-made ones. On a larger scale, the way they're put together is mind-bogglingly complex, especially to a layperson like me.  

"Here's your book now," said Dave, as we approached a big conveyor belt and I looked across to see long thin sections of the book rolling past me:

I didn't dare go anywhere near them as they were moving so fast, but Dave reached over and pulled one off, then put it into my hand. It was the front page of my book!

The sections were quite thick, by which I mean they contained a number of pages already fixed together. It obviously takes quite a lot of separate sections to create a whole book, though. (Please note that I am now saying, "obviously" like the expert I have so suddenly become.) God knows how they get all the sections in the right order.

"I'll turn this section over," said Dave, "and then you'll see." 

So he did – and so did I.

See the marks along the sides? Turns out they aren't just grubby splodges of ink, as I assumed, but have a very important purpose: to give a visual clue as to whether the book's being put together in the right order, once all the sections are put together. When they are, they form clear, diagonal lines, so any deviation should be obvious.

That's probably as clear as mud, but hopefully it'll become clearer as we continue our virtual tour – which is taking so long, I'd have another tea-break if I didn't think The Boss might come back at any moment after doing something stupid like suggesting they hold a singsong at the Tracheotomy Club. (He did that last time he went, but he never learns.)

I'm even more hazy about the next bit of the printing process but, somehow or other, the sections then end up on huge conveyor belts like the ones below, which are holding the sections of my book.

That's when things started to get really exciting (as if they weren't already exciting enough): I was about to see the last stages of Molly Bennett's random ramblings becoming a book. A book that might even be in a library one day!

"That's if the ConDems don't get rid of all the libraries before then," says Killjoy Greg. "They're having a bloody good go at it." 

I'm ignoring him, as I'd rather show you a video of what happened next. 

Someone must have pressed a button somewhere, because the line suddenly jerked into life, and everything started moving forwards towards where I was peering through a glass box-type construction that ran along the front of the line.

Dave (from the bindery) started explaining what was happening – as you can see in the clip that's coming up, but can't hear, so I'll have to explain instead, which won't be half as accurate. 

Anyway, the sections basically move forward along all those production lines you can see above – somehow or other getting put together in the right order – and then they shoot along sideways while glue (at an unbelievably-hot temperature) is applied along what is about to become the spine of the book. 

Then at some stage they get compressed, really hard, by someone wielding a big red tubular thing, which I was desperate to have a go at but didn't dare ask if I could.

Watch what happened when the next stage occurred: if you wait until I turn round, you'll see why I nearly fell over.

There was my book – with a cover on it for the first time – but it was a double book: with each half facing in opposite directions. (Does that make sense? Greg says not, but he's being awkward.)

There were so many of them, too. I couldn't believe it: thousands of "double" books all heading off to the next stage. (Warning, this one might make you feel dizzy: I know it did me.)

They were trimmed next, and finally, chopped in half with what Dave described as a "wood saw"...and then, all of a sudden, proper single books were moving along the production line.

"Look up there," said someone, and "Over there, too" said someone else.

There were books rolling along conveyor belts everywhere I looked: my book. 

I'm so short I couldn't really see them properly while they were overhead, but then they started rolling along a lower conveyor, at which point someone said, "Smile". This lunatic gurning was the result:

"What the hell are you watching, Molly?" says The Boss, who's just reappeared from nowhere. (Well, the Tracheotomy Club, actually, but you know what I mean.) I suppose I'd better go and find out what he's done to upset them now. 

The bit about what happened next at Clays will have to wait for yet another post – unless you all tell me to stop showing off now. My grandfather would have done that ages ago, so I wouldn't blame you at all.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone from HarperCollins and Clays, especially Dave from the bindery – who I think should take a bow:

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